Some of the teams learned what logistical efforts have to be made to ship a new race car from the shop in North Carolina out to Las Vegas. Jeff Burton, Dario Franchitti and several others found the wall. Since the new cars were going to head to Fontana after completing testing at Vegas, additional cars were needed.
Speeds were good, and Juan Pablo Montoya, fresh off his second straight win at the Rolex 24 Hours at Daytona, was able to set the top time in the late session. I don’t give a rat’s butt what anyone thinks about JPM… The man can drive a race car… any race car. I look for him to win on an oval this season, probably a mile and a half. He ran so well at Atlanta in both races last year, it impressed Tony Stewart. Then again Stewart tried to kill Montoya at Texas, so I doubt JPM really cares what Smoke thinks – nor do I for that matter.
The name that grabs my attention is “Cousin” Carl Edwards. On the Jan. 28 morning session, Carl’s 99A and 99B were down in the low-twenties on the speed chart. The “flipper” must have flipped something, because through three more sessions at Vegas, and then four sessions he ran at Fontana, Edwards had at least one of his two rides in the top-ten, and he was fastest in three of those seven runs. After he struggled early last year in the COT, and Jack Roush whined about being behind the curve, Edwards was the best non-Chevy in the COT races. Matt Kenseth had a couple of good runs, as did Greg Biffle and Jamie McMurrary, but none were as consistent as the 99.
Toyota, led by Joe Gibbs Racing, showed well in the Vegas test. The saying “a rising tide lifts all boats” proved true as Michael Waltrip Racing and Red Bull showed good speed as well. Hamlin led a session with both of his cars, and Reutimann, Waltrip, Allmendinger, and Vickers all had top-10 runs in one session or another. The Camrys were better overall at Fontana than at Vegas, but how that shakes out in the races remains to be seen. It will also be a matter of how many non-Gibbs cars make the field.
This leads us to the news flash of the year: The Chevys are fast, and Hendrick Motorsports leads the “Bowtie Brigade”. Wow… Imagine that. Jeff Gordon and Jimmie Johnson are at the top of the heap. The RCR and DEI (all engines from the same shop) cars also ran well, as did Hendrick-powered Haas-CNC rides of Jeremy Mayfield and Scott Riggs (but their most impressive speeds were in the final session with only 16 cars posting times).
Keep in mind something very important when looking at fast lap speed in these test sessions, and it’s a point Jeff Gordon brought to light: Many of these teams are out there working on qualifying setups, because they’ll have to race their way into the field. This is especially true if they fail to make the field at Daytona. They’ll be a race behind those that do make it. And with Fontana and Vegas immediately following Daytona, some teams will have to play catch-up right off the bat, and those two tracks will be the place to do it.
Atlanta comes next on the schedule, and they ran a COT test there as well – then the teams will head into familiar territory at Bristol and Martinsville. Texas will be a crapshoot but data from Atlanta will help, then there’s Phoenix, Talladega, and Richmond. So getting into the top-35 will be critical during the west-coast swing.
Less than two weeks to go till the 500, and the Bud Shootout is just days away!